The family of Dravidian languages originated about 4,500 years ago, an international study has found. The study used new linguistic analyses and advanced statistical methods to trace the origins of almost 80 languages and dialects spoken by about 22 crore people.

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday, used data collected from native speakers of the languages. Dravidian languages are mainly spoken in south and central India and Sri Lanka. Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam are the most-spoken languages in the family.

“The history of these languages is crucial for understanding prehistory in Eurasia, because despite their current restricted range, these languages played a significant role in influencing other language groups,” the study said. The research found that the Dravidian languages were probably much more widespread in the west in the past than they are now.

Researchers from universities in Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Sweden were involved in the study. A researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun was also part of the team.

The study is based on a phylogenetic analysis – phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary history of people. The conclusion is in line with previous linguistic and archaeological studies, the researchers said.